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Tag: Emmanuel Baptist Church Pontiac

Short Stories: Hawking Jesus and Candy Bars at Midwestern Baptist College

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern was a small, affordable, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started in 1954 by Dr. Tom Malone. “Doc” was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church — a nearby megachurch. Both the college and the church were built around winning souls for Jesus. Students were expected to participate in soulwinning activities and witness to people every week. The goal was to lead people through the plan of salvation — typically The Roman’s Road — and encourage them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (Please see Let’s Go Soulwinning and Door-to-Door Soulwinning.) On Sundays, students were expected to account for their soulwinning activities the previous week. I suspect most students fudged their numbers.

There were numerous IFB churches in the Pontiac area. Most of them were quite aggressive in reaching sinners for Jesus. These churches, along with Emmanuel Baptist, and Midwestern, turned Pontiac is to a burned-out zone — an area so evangelized that sinners were hard to find. Week after week, IFB church members and college students would fan across Pontiac and the nearby suburbs looking for prey, uh, I mean, unsaved people. Scores of people were allegedly “saved” every week, so much so that virtually all of Pontiac was saved. The deep south, with Baptist churches on every street corner, has a similar problem. So many soul winners, so few sinners. One pastor told me that there were so many Baptist churches in Chattanooga, Tennessee — home to IFB institutions Tennessee Temple and Highland Park Baptist Church, pastored by Lee Roberson — that everyone in Chattanooga was saved. Yet, young preachers would still be “led” to Chattanooga to start new churches. Easy pickings, I’d say.

Midwestern would annually hold a soulwinning contest — a period of time when students were expected to regularly and aggressively evangelize Pontiac residents. These contests were the regular soulwinning programs on steroids. Imagine a busload of Jehovah’s Witnesses showing up in your neighborhood and not leaving for two weeks. Knocking on your door, repeatedly. That’s what the annual soulwinning contests were like.

Midwestern put up a chart in the gymnasium/cafeteria that tracked the number of souls saved. This chart listed the names of the top soulwinners. As with all such contests, there were some students that were really committed to the contest, hoping to win the prize for winning the most souls. Yes, there were prizes. It was widely believed among dorm students that the top soul winners were likely lying about the number of souls they led to Jesus. I was among those who believed the top soulwinners were fudging their numbers. Of course, it may have been that we were just jealous that God had not blessed us with soulwinning power. Students were required to take evangelism classes each year, but some students didn’t take to the techniques as well as others. (It would be interesting to do a study on the psychology of those who were at the top of the souls saved leaderboard.)

Polly and I weren’t very good soulwinners. Polly didn’t win one soul to Jesus during her three years at Midwestern; I won two. I worked a full-time job, attended classes 25 hours a week, attended church three times a week, taught Sunday school, drove a church bus, went on Tuesday visitation and called on my bus route on Saturdays, preached at a drug rehab center on Sunday afternoons, and went out on double dates with Polly on weekends. I also played basketball often as I could. The dorm had a curfew — 10:00 pm, I think. When, exactly, did I have time to win souls? (As a pastor, I did put what I learned at Midwestern to work, but I never did like doing door-to-door evangelism. I always felt such practices were coercive.)

Midwestern would also hold annual fundraising contests. (Midwestern always seemed to be broke, often begging poor college students to give money to the college.) One year, students were asked to sell jumbo-sized O’Henry candy bars for $1. Students were expected to sell the candy bars to everyone they came in contact with, much like the college students who knock on your door in the summer, selling books, magazines, and knives. I halfheartedly tried to sell the candy bars. My biggest buyer ended up being me. 🙂

As I thought about the soulwinning contest and the candy bar fundraising contest, I realized that they were one and the same. The techniques were the same. The goals were the same: buy the product we are selling. The rewards are the same: recognition and your name on a chart. And the people who were at the top of the souls saved chart were the same people at the top of the candy bars sold chart.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why Many IFB Preachers Don’t Have Peaceful, Contented Lives

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a subset under the broad banner of Evangelicalism. IFB pastors and congregants tend to be theological, political, and social extremists. While their theological beliefs differ little from garden variety Evangelicals, how they engage and interact with the broader religious and secular cultures sets them apart from other Evangelicals.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Millions more attend IFB-like churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, many of the largest American churches were IFB congregations. As our society moved leftward socially and morally, IFB pastors and institutions dug in their heels and refused to adapt or change. Thinking the methods they used were timeless truths that must be religiously practiced, IFB churches hemorrhaged members, losing them to churches that were not as intolerant or extreme. By the 1990s, once-filled megachurch auditoriums were empty, resulting in more than a few IFB churches filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Alabamian pulpiteer Tom Malone. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, which at the time was one of the largest churches in America, boasting thousands each week in attendance. Midwestern was never a large college, but the institution was noted for turning out preachers and church planters. By the late 1980s, Midwestern and Emmanuel Baptist were in serious numerical and financial free fall. Eventually, Emmanuel closed its doors and Midwestern became a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan.

What happened to Emmanuel Baptist continues to happen to IFB churches today. IFB pastors, with few exceptions, are Biblical literalists who refuse to believe anything that contradicts their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Some pastors even go far as to say that only the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God; that other translations are the works of Satan. Literalism and inerrancy are considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. This has resulted in IFB pastors and churches believing in all sorts of absurdities. IFB pastors are, without exception, creationists. Most of them are young earth creationists, believing that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,025 years ago. Bible stories meant to illustrate greater spiritual truths are often taken literally, resulting in IFB adherents believing, among a host of absurdities, that the earth was destroyed by a universal flood 4,000 or so years ago, the sun and moon stood still (Joshua 10:13), and all humans trace their lineage back to two people — Adam and Eve.  Their commitment to literalism forces IFB pastors to defend fantastical things. If the Bible says it, it’s true. End of discussion!

While there is some eschatological diversity within the IFB church movement, literalism demands that pastors believe and teach that the events recorded in the book of Revelation will one day literally take place. Most IFB church members believe that the return of Jesus to earth is imminent. A wide, deep apocalyptic river runs through the IFB church movement, leading to extreme love and devotion to God’s chosen people, Israel. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital excited IFB preachers — yet another “sign” that the return of Jesus is nigh. That this move could ignite the entire region and lead to war, is of little concern to IFB preachers. They believe that things must continue to get worse; that Jesus won’t come back to earth until the world stage is set for his triumphal return. This means that a war of epic proportions must occur, ending in Armageddon. While IFB preachers might not admit it out loud, I am certain many of them would welcome nuclear war, believing that such a war will make the world ready to embrace first the anti-Christ and then later Jesus when he returns to earth on a literal white horse to defeat the anti-Christ and Satan.

IFB pastors and churches are politically right-wing. If a survey were conducted with IFB adherents, I suspect surveyors would find that church members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, and are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-same-sex marriage, and very much in favor of returning prayer and Bible reading to public school classrooms (even though many of them either home school or have their children enrolled in Christian schools). In earlier years, the IFB church movement believed there was a strict separation of church and state. Today, many IFB pastors and churches no longer believe the wall of separation exists, and that the United States is a Christian nation — a country chosen by God. This thinking can be traced back to the late 1970s when IFB megachurch pastor Jerry Falwell, along with Paul Weyrich, started the Moral Majority. Since then, scores of IFB pastors have used their pulpits to advance certain (almost always Republican) political policies and candidates.

Bruce, I thought this post was about why IFB preachers (and many within their congregations) don’t have peaceful, contented lives. It is, but I felt it necessary to show how IFB pastors think and view the world before explaining why so many lack peace and contentment in their lives. If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture. IFB pastors see themselves as prophets or watchmen on the walls, warning all who will listen that God is real, the Bible is true, and Hell awaits all those who reject the IFB way, truth, and life. IFB preachers think it is their duty to wage war against Satan and the enemies of God. I can only imagine how hysterical IFB preachers are over LGBTQ acceptance, same-sex marriage, and the increasing prominence of atheism. Anything that challenges their beliefs must be refuted and turned back. Add to this the internecine warfare IFB churches are famous for, and it should come as no surprise that pastors find themselves constantly battling the “world”; the “forces of darkness and evil.”  Every dawn brings a new day with new battles that must be fought. Not only must IFB preachers wage war against Satan, cults, false Christianity, liberalism, and secularism, but they must also fight against those in their own movement who want to make IFB churches more “worldly.”

The battles, then, never end. Day in and day out, IFB pastors are in fight mode. And those who are not? They are labeled compromisers and hirelings only concerned with money and prestige. Is it any wonder then that IFB preachers rarely have peaceful, contented lives? Their lives are in a constant state of turmoil. Satan and the world are pushing against their beliefs and values at every turn. Not fighting back is considered cowardly, a betrayal of everything IFB believers hold dear. Go to any town in America with an IFB church and ask mainline pastors how they view the local IFB pastor and church. In most instances, mainline pastors will say that local IFB churches have extreme beliefs and seem to thrive on controversy. IFB pastors are viewed as outliers on the fringe of Christianity — haters and dissemblers who have no tolerance for anyone but those who adhere to their narrow beliefs and practices.

Separation from the world and separation from erring Christians is a fundamental doctrine within IFB churches. This too leads to never-ending angst and stress. Concerned over encroaching “worldliness,” IFB pastors often have long lists of rules (church standards) congregants are expected to follow. (Please read The Official Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook.) While the rules vary from church to church, they are meant to inoculate church members from becoming infected with “worldly” ideas.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, said:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

1 John 2:15-17 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Verses such as these fuel IFB separatist beliefs and practices. The world is evil and must be, with few exceptions, avoided at all costs. This is why IFB pastors and institutions are at the forefront of the Christian school and home school movements. What better way to avoid worldliness than to wall off families and children from the influence of “worldly” schools?

I am sure that many, if not most, IFB preachers would disagree with me when I say they don’t have peaceful contented lives. However, I would ask them to consider whether their constant battles against sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise have robbed them of the goodness, peace, and contentment life has to offer; that constantly being at odds with not only the “world,” but also fellow Christians, is bound to exact an emotional toll. Thinking you alone stand for God, truth, and righteousness requires constant diligence lest compromise and “worldliness” creep in. Aren’t you tired, preacher, of being constantly at war with everyone and everything around you? Maybe it is time for you lay down your weapons of war and rejoin the human race. Countless former IFB pastors and church members have done just that. Tired of the constant turmoil and unrest, they finally said ENOUGH! and walked away. Most of them found kinder, gentler forms of faith, and a handful of ex-IFB believers have embraced agnosticism or atheism. Scary, I know, but not having to constantly be on guard lest Satan gain the advantage is worth the risk of judgment and Hell. I am sure God will understand. A wild, wonderful world awaits those who dare to lay down their Fundamentalist beliefs and walk away. If you are ready to say ENOUGH! and want help plotting a life of peace and contentment, I would love to help you do so.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, What Happened to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan?

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

I recently received the following email from a reader named Dan:

I wrote before but never received any response. I just had some curious questions and have had them for a while so thought you might know. I am from originally Downriver and former IFB. Whatever happened to Dr. Tom Malone Jr ? I could be wrong but it seems like in the early 80’s he vanished and Emmanuel Baptist seemed to sort of brush him under a rug.

Another question why do you think Emmanuel [Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan] fell apart so rapidly? I know we are aware of the “personality cult” etc. but is there a more unique reason why it just collapsed? It was collapsing while Dr. Malone was still alive, yet First Baptist Church of Hammond and some other IFB [churches] didn’t collapse. (Yes many did) I am just sort of mystified about Emmanuel. I know Temple [Baptist Church] moved out of Detroit and was successful in Plymouth not being IFB. I was just curious about your opinion on the unique collapse of Emmanuel.

Dr. Tom Malone was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Malone started Emmanuel in 1942, and by the late 1960s, the church was one of the largest congregations in the United States. Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College started his ministerial career as an evangelist. His travels later brought him to Pontiac where he pastored several churches. In 1942, according to his biographer Joyce Malone Vick, Malone resigned from Marimont Baptist Church due to “denominationalism, doctrinal heresy, and liberalism.” From this point forward until his death on January 7, 2007, Malone was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, evangelist, and conference speaker. One month later, his son Tommy, Jr., also an IFB preacher, died.

Malone started Midwestern Baptist College in 1954. Advertising itself as a “character-building factory,” Midwestern was primarily a training school for preachers. Not a large school, perhaps 400 or so students in its heyday, Midwestern trained hundreds of men, sending them across the country and to foreign countries to start IFB churches. My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern from 1976-1979. While we left Midwestern before our senior year due to Polly being pregnant and me being out of work, the college and Malone made a deep impression on our lives. Polly’s father, the late Lee Shope, attended Midwestern from 1972-1976, and her uncle, the late James Dennis, the former pastor of Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, attended the college from 1961-1965.

Midwestern students were required to attend Emmanuel and work in its ministries. Without the college’s students, the church’s ministries would have collapsed overnight. I worked in the bus ministry, taught Sunday school, worked in the youth department, and held afternoon services at SHAR House, a drug rehabilitation facility in Detroit. Polly worked in the bus ministry her freshman year and sang in the choir. She also was part of a traveling handbell group for two years. All students were required to attend church every time the doors were open, tithe and give offerings, and go on visitation one or more times per week. Students were required to account for in writing their “works” over the past week.

By the time, Polly and I arrived at Midwestern, Emmanuel was already in decline numerically and financially. By 1980, Emmanuel was no longer listed on Elmer Towns’ list of the largest churches/Sunday schools in America. Other IFB churches topped the list, with First Baptist Church of Hammond, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, coming in one, two, and three. Most of the churches on the 1980 list were IFB and Southern Baptist congregations. Today, only First Baptist of Hammond remains on the list. Hundreds of IFB megachurches have either drastically declined in attendance or closed their doors. Emmanuel was one such church.

By the late 1980s, Emmanuel was in steep decline. Sometime in the 1990s (I can’t find the actual date), Malone left the church, leading to wholesale attendance loss. Several years later, Malone would return, hoping to save his baby, but it was too late. Emmanuel eventually closed its doors. The church’s and college’s properties were sold off. Who received the proceeds from these sales is unknown. Midwestern, as an institution, moved classes to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. While Midwestern technically “exists,” it only has a handful of students (and may be defunct) and its website has not been updated in two years.

Dan wants to know what, exactly, happened that led to Emmanuel’s decline and closure. What follows is my educated opinion on the matter.

Tom Malone was a southerner. His preaching style reflected the style found in southern churches. Malone was a powerful preacher, an orator, and a pulpiteer. In the 1940s-1960s, southerners who had come north to Pontiac and Detroit to work in the auto plants found their way to Emmanuel — a church that felt and sounded like home. These well-paid workers helped fund Emmanuel, as did students who worked at the various auto plants. (Students could get a job at Truck and Coach by going to the admission office and putting their name on a list. Polly’s dad worked at Truck and Coach for four years. More than a few students, after graduating from Midwestern, stayed in Pontiac, unwilling to leave their good wages for the paltry wages of the ministry.) By the 1980s, the auto industry was in decline. One need only visit Detroit to see the ravages of this decline. Job losses caused numeric and economic problems for churches, including Emmanuel. Fewer people meant fewer workers. Less money meant less building maintenance and staff. During the three years Polly and I attended Emmanuel and Midwestern, pleas for money were common. By 1980, buildings and buses needed major repairs. The bus fleet, in particular, was a rolling junkyard. Emmanuel ran 60-80 busses in the 1970s, though the fleet reduction was already underway by 1979, starting with the routes operated in Detroit. The church and college continued to hemorrhage people and money throughout the 1990s, leading to their eventual closure.

As student attendance at Midwestern declined, Emmanuel had problems staffing their various ministries. Increasing pressure was put on students to do more. While Polly and I attended Midwestern, we were expected to find non-student church members to fill in for us when we went home for Christmas. Good luck with that. Non-student church members were largely uninvolved in Emmanuel’s ministries. Without Midwestern students, the Sunday school and bus ministry would have collapsed overnight.

Fewer students meant less money and fewer workers. Students gave thousands of dollars to the church, and funded college fundraising campaigns. Without student money and work, Emmanuel had a big problem on their hands. Non-student members had become passive members, expecting students to do most of the work. Now that college enrollment was in precipitous decline, members were expected to pull their weight. This did not go over well. As offerings declined due to attendance loss, Malone cut ministries, hoping to stave off serious financial problems. By this time, I suspect the big money givers that helped fund Emmanuel’s rise to megachurch status were gone. In the Detroit metro area, there are IFB churches on virtually every street corner. Get pissed off at one church? Move on to another. Church hopping is common.

While Malone was a charismatic preacher, he could also be a bully, as could many church and college staff members. This kind of behavior is common in IFB churches and institutions. The IFB church movement revolves around men. These men can be quite demanding and controlling (generally speaking). Abuse and trauma are common — just ask former IFB church members. I suspect that over time, church members were less willing to put up with Malone’s authoritarianism. Rumors abound, but what actually went on behind closed doors remains unknown. Malone’s devotees continue to paint him as a saint, but Doc was a flawed, sinful man, a product of his time. I wish the people who knew him the best would be honest about the past. I have in my possession the book, Tom Malone: The Preacher From Pontiac. Written by his daughter Joyce Vick, the book glosses over Malone’s character flaws, foibles, and church problems. Such books are common in IFB circles. Man is deified, lest people think IFB preachers have feet of clay.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

IFB churches and their pastors are known for being unmovable and unchangeable. Malone was no different. As the culture around him changed socially, religiously, politically, and economically, Malone dug his feet in, vowing to defend “old-fashioned” Christianity — “old-fashioned” meaning 1950s. I suspect his immovability caused some members to seek out churches that weren’t as ardently Fundamentalist.

Take the things mentioned in this post and combine them, you have a recipe for a church’s decline and death. Scores of IFB churches that once ran thousands in attendance are now closed. Other IFB churches are shells of what they once were. In time, unless it changes, the IFB church movement will decline to such a degree that it will become a footnote in history. Every IFB church and institution I was associated with is in numerical and economic decline. Gone are the days of burgeoning attendances and overflowing offering plates. Now, it seems, IFB churches are focused on “quality, not quantity,” a philosophy they roundly decried 30-40 years ago.

Tom “Tommy” Malone, Jr. was a graduate of Midwestern, its vice president, and the church’s assistant pastor. While Malone, Sr. has an earned doctorate from Wayne State University — a rarity in IFB circles — Malone, Jr, had an honorary doctorate granted to him by his father. (Malone, Jr. did have an earned master’s degree from the University of Detroit. Midwestern gave numerous supporters of the college honorary doctorates. If you happen to come across a Midwestern grad parroting the fact he has a doctorate, it is most likely an honorary degree or a doctorate from an unaccredited diploma mill. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.)

I know very little about what happened to Malone, Jr. I know he and his wife divorced. Malone, Jr. according to rumors, wandered away from the Lord, later returning to the fold. Malone, Jr, died one month after his father, in February 2007.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Midwestern Baptist College: A Character-Building Factory — Part One

midwestern baptist college sophomore class 1977
Sophomore class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly is in the first row, the first person on the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left

Series Navigation

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up our family and meager belongings and moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California. Looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Dad hoped to find prosperity. What he found instead was Jesus. The Gerencser family was always religious, attending the Lutheran Church and Episcopalian Church in Bryan. However, upon arriving in California, we started attending a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation, Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon (now Shadow Mountain Community Church). Pastored by Tim LaHaye, who would later author the Left Behind series with Jerry Jenkins and the Act of Marriage, Scott Memorial was the genesis for what would happen in my life for the next forty-five years. Both of my parents made public professions of faith and were baptized, as was I at the age of five. From this time forward until my parents divorced in 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open.

Dad never found the pot of gold he was looking for, and after three years in California, we returned to Bryan. For a while, we attended Eastland Baptist Church, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1965, we started attending First Baptist Church, an IFB congregation pastored by Jack Bennett. Over the next few years, we moved to Farmer, Deshler, and Harrod, and then in 1970, we moved to Findlay. At each of these stops, my parents joined what they described as “Bible-believing” churches.

After a short stint at Calvary Baptist Church in Findlay, our family began attending Trinity Baptist Church, an IFB congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Trinity was pastored by Gene Millioni. Ron John was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor. All of these men, especially Bruce Turner, would make a deep, lasting imprint on my life. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)

In 1972, my parents divorced. This ended my parents’ and siblings’ church attendance. I, on the other hand, continued to attend church every time the doors were open, including revivals, conferences, Bible school, and other sundry services. Throw in youth meetings, youth outings, church basketball, bus ministry, and visitation, and it is clear that my life revolved around church. As my home life disintegrated, the church became a place of safety and security for me. I rarely spent any time at home. Dad had married a nineteen-year-old girl — four years older than I. We did not get along, to say the least.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a revival service. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus, that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamedRomans 10:9-11)

I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new. (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach.

bruce-gerencser-1975
Bruce, age eighteen

In March 1973, Dad informed us that we were moving to Tucson, Arizona. After arriving in Tucson, I sought out an IFB church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored by Lewis Johnson. I quickly immersed myself in the life of the church, working on a bus route, going on teen visitation, and winning souls to Christ. Four months later, I hopped a Greyhound bus and returned to my mom’s home in Bryan. After spending June and July in Bryan, I talked to Bruce Turner about moving to Findlay so I could attend Trinity again. Bruce found me a family to live with, Bob and Bonnie Bolander. That lasted for three months before Bob informed me that I would have to move. I would later learn that he thought I was getting too friendly with his wife. In retrospect, I may have been, but as a young, naïve, virgin boy I was clueless about such things. Bruce found me a new home with Gladys Canterberry, a matronly divorcée in the church. I became a ward of the court so I could get Medicaid insurance and Gladys could receive a monthly check for keeping me. I lived with Gladys until the end of May 1974. Two weeks before school was out, I moved back to my mom’s home.

After returning home to Bryan, I learned that Findlay High School was refusing me credit for eleventh grade. Why? I failed to take my final exams. Never mind the fact that I never missed a day of school. Never mind the fact that I had good, albeit not spectacular, grades. Never mind the fact that I got out of school every day at noon so I could work the lunch shift at Bill Knapp’s as a busboy (and I often worked the dinner shift too, 25-30 hours a week). I was so livid over this, that I dropped out of school and started working at a Marathon gas station pump gas and fixing cars. During this time, I called First Baptist Church in Bryan my church home.

In October 1974, Mom was admitted for her second stint at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. After two months of living on my own with my sixteen-year-old brother and fourteen-year-old sister, Dad came from Arizona and moved us to Sierra Vista where he now lived. While in Sierra Vista, I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. I immersed myself in the life of the church, working in the bus ministry, teaching Sunday school, and attending church three times a week. While attending Sierra Vista Baptist, I met a young woman named Anita Farr. I was quickly smitten with Anita and we had a torrid love affair until she returned to college in Phoenix in the fall of 1975. (Please see 1975: Anita, My First Love.) In a fit of jealousy, I broke up with Anita, and a week later I was sitting in Bryan, Ohio.

car I took to college
The car I took to college in August 1976

I spent the next year living with my mom and working as the dairy manager for Foodland. First Baptist was once again my church home, and in the spring of 1976, I decided that it was time for me to act on my calling to the ministry. I planned to attend Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. Unable to raise the necessary funds to enroll at Prairie Bible, I looked for a Fundamentalist college closer to home to attend. My IFB grandparents, John and Ann Tieken (please see Dear Ann and John), suggested that I check out Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — not far from where they lived and John owned and operated an aircraft engine repair shop. In the summer of 1976, I drove two and a half hours north to Pontiac to visit Midwestern. I quickly determined that Midwestern was the place for me. Cheap tuition, not too far from home. The only negative was the proximity of my hateful, judgmental, abusive Jesus-loving grandparents.

In August 1976, I packed up my meager belongings in my car and moved to Midwestern. I moved into the dormitory, thus beginning my journey towards becoming an IFB pastor. What happened during my three years at Midwestern will hopefully make for interesting reading, providing a careful inside look at Midwestern Baptist College, its founder Dr. Tom Malone, Emmanuel Baptist Church, meeting my wife, Polly, the daughter of a Midwestern graduate and an IFB preacher, and how my time at Midwestern deeply shaped the first half of my ministerial career.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Preachers Who Influenced Me: Dr. Tom Malone Asks “Can America Survive?”

dr tom malone

In 1971, Dr. Tom Malone, chancellor of Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, preached a sermon titled, Can American Survive? What follows is an excerpt from Malone’s sermon:

I have a question: Can America survive her awful diseases? Can America live as America lives today and last until the turn of the century? 

I have often tried to imagine what it would be like. Suppose the Lord tarries another few years: What will America be like? If one can discern the symptoms and trends of today, God pity the people if 2000 ever comes on God’s calendar. Can America survive? “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” – Proverb 14:34. I would like for you to notice four facts dealt with in my introduction. 

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We speak much about the sins of individuals, but the Bible speaks much also about the sins of nations. There is such a thing as a national sin.   

For instance, just imagine the various besetting sins of certain sections of the world, and go around this encircled globe – you find great besetting sins in different parts of the world. In fact, the most prominent sin of the English-speaking world is probably that of drunkenness. England, with her pubs; America, with her bars. The English-speaking people are the drunken nations of the world. God pronounces woe upon those who look upon the wine when it is red. The English-speaking world has the sin of drunkenness and, of course, as a result of that, a multiplicity of sins follow. 
In the Eastern world, there is the awful sin of idolatry. In the Western nations of the world, men have made with their hands gods of wood and stone and silver, to replace the one true God.

A great part of the world is characterized by another great besetting sin, that of infidelity, which is in the communistic world today. The nations in communism say that the Bible is not true, that Jesus is not divine, that there is no efficacy in the cross, that there is nothing to Christianity.  So, the Bible plainly teaches that there is such a thing as national sin.

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We do not interpret the Bible in the light of history; we interpret history in the light of the Bible. If one studies the Word of God and meditates in it, he sees history written before it ever happens. And the Bible plainly teaches the reality of national decay.   

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As you travel throughout many parts of the world, you see what are called the Roman columns. These columns were erected all over the known world, because Rome ruled the world. They called Rome the Imperial City, built on seven hills and surrounding the Tiber River. Rome had a vast empire. A great stone in one of the buildings of Rome – it is there today – is called, “the marking stone” or “the milestone”, and every road had distances on it, meaning it is so many miles to the heart of the Imperial City.

Today these columns are broken and the buildings have come to ruin. Fifty-five million people live in Italy today as a common power and as a small nation that has no great significance in the world. Listen! God brings nations to ruin and decay. If this Bible be true, it says that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” 

God has brought that proud nation into the dust. Let us think of our forefathers. I do not mean on this continent, but rather our forefathers who came mostly from Great Britain. Great Britain was a world power, the greatest colonial power the world had ever known. Out from England went missionaries to all the world. God blessed England. She brought civilization to many countries. 

But England today is a common power. Her great colonial system is nothing now but a dream. It has all been washed away under the judgment of God. Oh, yes, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”. We have reached an hour that no Christian one hundred years ago would have believed. We have reached an hour when we are sending missionaries to Great Britain.

The land of the Wesleys, Whitefield and Spurgeon is a land of infidelity. They say that only two percent of the people there ever darken the doors of the house of God. 

Much that is destroying America came from England. In your time and mine, from England have come the hippies, the long hair, the loose morals in high politics. God has brought that nation to its knees. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” God has done it in the past. If this is a divine principle of the Word of God, can America survive? What will America be like if Jesus tarries until the year 2000? I am talking to you today about the absolute destruction of a democracy and I will be able, with the Word of God, to prove that today. 

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The first one that I would like to deal with needs not one part of a sermon but many sermons to fully deal with it – liberalism in professed Christianity. Departure from the revealed truth of the Word of God always has and always will bring about the destruction and ruin of any nation. Liberalism in professed Christianity.   

Something has happened in Christianity that the Lord Jesus said would happen. The Lord told seven parables about the kingdom of Heaven. The church is not the kingdom of Heaven. There is a distinct difference. We will not be technical about that. But the Lord established some principles so we could know what it is always going to be like in professed Christianity. 

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We find in America today blind leaders of the blind, that is, men who profess to be called of God, men who profess to be prophets, teachers, leaders in the truth. But Jesus spoke of them in Matthew 15:14: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”. We have these two things: many millions of unsaved amidst professed Christianity, and many leaders who are blind. My guess would be that there are more unsaved religious leaders than there are saved. If you doubt that, go to some of the pastors of your city and ask them point blank, ”Have you been born again? Are you sure today that you are on your way to Heaven?” I am talking about liberalism in Christianity. A Compromise of Truth 

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We have seen in our lifetime the capitulation of Christian schools and colleges. I know of a preacher, now in Heaven, whole son came home from a religious school and said, “Now Dad, if Jesus was the Son of God, why so-and-so?”. The preacher took his son, got into his automobile and drove out a ways. It was in the days of the old-fashioned running boards. They got down on their knees out in the woods and placed the old Bible on the running board of the car and made out of it a mourner’s bench. It is said that that preacher lifted his hands toward God and, with tears streaming down his face, cried, “O God, I would rather be dead than to have an ‘if’ in the belief of my boy! O God, take all the doubts out of the mind of my son as to who Jesus is.”  And God did it that day. 

We need to make every chair, every couch, every seat, every square foot of our environment an old-fashioned mourner’s bench and come back to God before it is too late. I am talking to you today about liberalism in professed Christianity, which is definitely a ruination of any country.   How can you have righteousness without the truth? How can you have righteousness without a firm belief in the inspiration of the Bible? 

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Folks, worldliness and coldness have come even into the true churches. You see it in the imitation of the world. First, I mention immodest dress. God knows the women of America are helping to send this country to Hell. Women, God bless you! We love you and we want to respect you, but for God’s sake, dress like a Christian. Paul wrote in 1st Timothy 2:9 and 10:   “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”   Why wouldn’t a Christian woman want to dress modestly? Some of you don’t like it, and you will whisper back and forth at the dinner table. But some of you want to be like the world. The people around you are going to Hell because you are no different from the world There are coldness and worldliness even in the church.   

Let me tell you something else and I say it in love. You may say, “You don’t love men with long hair.”. Oh yes I do! But the Bible says in 1st Corinthians 11:14, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”. And the word “nature” there is “instinct”. What the verse is saying is, “Does not even instinct itself teach us it is a shame for a man to have long hair?”. That chapter is dealing with the fact that a lady ought to have long hair and that her covering before God is her hair. The same chapter says that instinct teaches us that it is a shame for a man to have hair like a woman. This long hair on men and short skirts on women are not pleasing to God.  

We need to clean up. Don’t give me this old line, “Jesus had long hair”. All you have seen are pictures not more than two or three hundred years old, some artist’s conception of what Jesus looked like. Don’t give me that line. We don’t know whether Jesus had long hair, or sideburns, or what! but the Bible says it is a shame for a man to have long hair. While talking to someone the other day about the discipline and dress code in our school, this one said, “You mean people will put up with that?”.   I said, “Put up with what?” “Put up with what you put them through.”   I said, “We are not going to put them through anything but a happiness mill. They are happy that way.”. The most miserable people in the world are these folks who go around crabbing about the establishment because they want to be different. If you want to be different, get saved, get an old-fashioned revival in your heart, get a Bible under your arm and some tracts in your pocket and start soul winning and going to church. Folks will say, “Well boy, that fellow sure is different, isn’t he? In fact, I believe he is a little nutty!” Then you will really be enjoying it, right up to the hilt!

Another thing is the fear of emotionalism. I am still talking about coldness and worldliness even in true churches. Some folks are so scared that someone is going to get stirred up, while I am so scared that they are not. I pray all the time, “O God, stir people up.”. Listen, if a man says “Amen,” then he ought to live an “Amen”. But there is coldness and deadness in the church. Some folks are scared they are going to weep.  You know, preachers see some things that you folks never see. I have seen someone about to get blessed; then all of a sudden he realizes what is happening and he doesn’t want it to happen. I have seen them nearly choke to death to get those tears out of the way. “Oh, no! This happen to me? Get blessed and shed some tears? Oh, no!”  The Bible says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”. It says, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5, 6).  Someone has said, “If the church were on fire, the world would come to see it burn.” O God, help us to get it on fire! Help us to see the fire of God come upon the church of the Lord Jesus. God, stir our hearts. As I look at my daughter and my sweet grandchildren, I can hardly keep from weeping. After I am gone, they are still going to be here. What will it be like?   

If any thinking person will study the trends that are in America today and think a few years beyond this present moment, he is bound to admit that we are headed for chaos and trouble. God’s Word is true: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”  There is absolutely no national righteousness in America today – from the White House to the poorhouse. We as a nation are void of national righteousness. This country does not deserve to be called a Christian nation in any sense of the word. It does not have any of the characteristics of a Christian nation. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” 

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A few decades ago a few people called themselves atheists, saying, “There is no such person as God.”  They were a distinct class of people. They would stand on the street corners. They were the soapbox speakers. They would gather crowds in the parks and talk about atheism. These were led by such men as Bob Ingersoll and others.  You don’t find that so much today. A more sophisticated type of atheism is abroad in the world. It finds its hotbed and its seeds of propagation in the schools and colleges of America. The psalmist has said, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). I used to hear a great man of God say, “Only a fool would be capable of making such a statement.”

Now there are many fools (using God’s definition and terminology). Instead of a few people on soapboxes and street corners, literally thousands of educated, intellectual people in the colleges of America would tell you flat out, “There is no God”. Atheism runs rampant is America. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  Now I am not an authority on Hebrew nor Greek, but in the verse where it says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” two words are in italics – “There is.” The literal rendering is, “The fool hath said in his heart, No God.” Notice what he said: “No God for me.”  The fool said in his heart, “I don’t need any God. I don’t want any God. I don’t believe there is any God.”  Notice where he says it: In his depraved heart. He does not come to an intellectual conclusion that there is no God. No one ever has. No one ever could. It is not an intellectual conclusion. It is a condition of a wicked, sinful, dirty heart that says, “I do not want any God. As far as my mind is concerned, there is no God.”  Why does he say it? Because he knows if there is a God, he is headed for Hell and for trouble.

Today we have a sophisticated type of atheism across this land.  Some sixty years ago atheism began to reach its prominence in a most subtle way in America.  It started out with a great battle over whether evolution is a fact or a theory. Evolution has been taught in the schools of this country for the last sixty years – from the wee grades of elementary school right on through college.   

You cannot be an evolutionist and a believer of the Word of God at the same time. Evolution is not just a theory; it is a wicked attack against the Bible. More than that, it is a wicked, personal attack against the very person of God Himself. 

For example, the Bible says, “Let us make man in our own image.”. The Bible says that God made him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul. Now evolution says that man came from a lower form of animal. God says, “I made him, and I made him like I am, a trinity – soul, body, spirit.” The spirit never dies, the soul is God-consciousness, and the body is physical. God made him that way. When a person teaches evolution and claims that evolution is a fact, he is making a personal attack on God Himself and against the Bible. That in the past brought ruination to nations. 

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First, there is an abnormal sexuality in America. Call it what you will. You would not believe how many homosexuals there are in America. Some are in high places. Some are in politics. Some are millionaires. The whole human structure of society is shot through with an abnormal, godless, wicked sexuality that God abominates.

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Think of the drug traffic in America. Who would have thought fifteen years ago that we would have come to the place in the use of drugs – from elementary school children on up – that we have come to. 

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Live-in Marriages Our country is filled today with what is called common law or live-in marriages, when a boy and girl start living together without a marriage ceremony. I know some people who have raised a family and have grandchildren who have never been married. Such people have called me who have heard me on the radio and said, “Preacher, can you marry us? We want to get our lives straightened out. We have never been married.”.   When people have no respect for the institution of marriage, it is only a matter of time until that nation disintegrates. 

What is the Answer?

You say to me, “Preacher, is there an answer?” Yes, thank God, there is.

A Biblical Home Life 

First of all, we need a Biblical home life. God knows that perhaps all of us parents have failed in some measure. 
There are four things about the American home today that are ruining it.   
1. The lack of male leadership. God ordained that the man be the head of the home. A man who is a man ought to be the head of his home. 

2. Women working outside the home. Now some of you, God bless you, are as good women as ever walked in a pair of shoes. But the Bible says, “Let the women be keepers at home.”   

3. Discipline. Our children today run wild. They have no rules, no discipline.   

4. We need in the homes of America some influence. We need influence toward Christ! We need godliness on the part of mother and father. We need family altars. 

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A lot of members of this church seldom darken its doors. So don’t be surprised when your children become drug addicts and criminals. That is what it leads to. So, first, the answer to the problem is a Biblical home. 
Secondly, the answer is an old-fashioned revival from Heaven. II Chronicles 7:14 says:   
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 

God knows we need a revival. I am not talking about a meeting with some high-powered personality who operates in the energy of the flesh. I am talking about a revival that comes from God, causing people to quake in His presence and search their hearts and confess their sins and set out to evangelize the world. We need THAT kind of revival.  

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We need a personal devotion on the part of all who honor His name, that makes us good Christians.

You can read the entire text of Malone’s sermon here.

If you haven’t heard Tom Malone preach before, the following video is typical of Malone’s preaching.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-79. During this time, I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church, hearing Tom Malone preach hundreds of times. I also played basketball with “Doc” on Sunday evenings after church. He was a man’s man. I learned a lot about life, the ministry, and preaching from Malone — good, bad, and indifferent. I can trace the formation of my ministerial career back to a handful of men: Bruce Turner (please see Dear Bruce Turner), James Dennis (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis), Rolfe Barnard, and Tom Malone. These preachers left a lasting imprint upon my life. That said, I refuse to lionize these men, praising only their positive influences on my life while ignoring their negative effects on my life. I used to participate in a Facebook group for former Midwestern students. Malone was treated like royalty. There was no place for criticizing the man or suggesting that he was a flawed man (as I witnessed firsthand). I prefer gods with clay feet. When it comes time for me to die, I want Polly, our children, and grandchildren to remember me in the fullness of the man I was. When my memorial is held on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, I want my family and friends to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about their husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking was not modeled to me in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Instead, broken, frail, fallible men were deified, glorified, and sanitized.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

My Recent Interview with McKinnon Mitchell

McKinnon Mitchell is working on a documentary about young-earth creationist and convicted felon Kent Hovind. Hovind attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s, as did my wife and I. Hovind attended a couple of years before we did. Best I can tell, Hovind was at Midwestern the same time Polly’s father was (1972-76).

McKinnon contacted me looking for information about Midwestern, Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church students were required to attend), and the college’s president and the church’s pastor, Tom Malone. I was more than happy to talk with McKinnon about these things. What follows are two videos: one of my full interview with McKinnon and the other of my interview edited for use in part one of the documentary. I thought readers would be interested in seeing and hearing these videos.

Video Link

Video Link

Please let me know what you think about the content of my interview in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

IFB Church Movement: Win Them, Wet Them, Work Them, Waste Them

church size matters
Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement traces its genesis back to the debate over modernism within Evangelical — primarily Baptist — sects and churches. This internecine war led Fundamentalists to split off from Baptist sects such as the American Baptist Convention (ABC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). By the late 1950s and 1960s, these separatists founded their own colleges, proudly wearing the IFB label. Historically, the 1960s-1980s were the heyday of the IFB church movement. Many of the largest churches in America were IFB churches. Today, most of those churches are either closed or shells of what they once were.

I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan for three years in the mid-1970s. Pastored by Tom Malone, Emmanuel Baptist was considered by everyone to be an IFB success story. Today, its doors are shuttered, and its college, Midwestern Baptist College, is a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan. Church and college properties were sold to developers. The dorm that was my home for three years has been converted into apartments. Emmanuel’s story is common among IFB churches. Books were written about these churches’ success, but where are the tomes detailing their decline and death?

There was a day when numbers drove IFB preachers: church attendance, Sunday school attendance, salvation decisions, baptisms, and offerings. Let me give readers an example of numbers-driven thinking. IFB evangelist Dennis Corle, who held three revivals for me back in the 1980s, accounts for his life this way:

Dennis Corle entered full time evangelism in 1981. In the past 38 years: he has traveled over 4 million miles, held over 2,085 revival meetings and over a thousand one-day meetings as well as Soul-winning and Revival Fires Conferences.

In his ministry he has had over 71,336 saved and 19,422 baptized. He has seen thousands of young people surrender for full time ministry many of whom are presently serving the Lord full time as well as thousands of members added to independent Baptist Churches during his meetings.

He is the founder and president of Revival Fires Baptist College which is a correspondence college that offers a full 4-year program. He started and teaches a summer institute designed to train young evangelists in the field. Dr. Corle also teaches in several fundamental Baptist colleges each year.

Dennis Corle is the founder of Revival Fires Publishing. His ministry has published 127 books to date.

Bob Gray, Sr. is another IFB bean counter. Now retired, Gray, Sr. describes his ministerial prowess this way:

[Bob Gray, Sr.] pastored for 29 years in Longview, Texas. Under Dr. Gray’s leadership, LBT had over one million souls come to Christ. Longview Baptist Temple grew from a low of 159 to 2,041 in weekly attendance under his ministry. The church gave 9.3 million dollars to missions and gave $ 325,000 to help the poor in the Ark-La-Tex area in those 29 years. The church averaged 2,041 the last year of his pastorate in 2008. The church baptized 4,046 converts in the same year. Dr. Gray had 99 baptisms from his personal soul winning in 2013.

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Dr. Gray has written 34 books . . . He has preached in every state of the union with the lone exception being North Dakota and 17 foreign countries. He is a conference speaker and local church consultant having flown over 6 million air miles.

size matters
Three IFB preachers checking to see who has the biggest church

In the 1970s and 1980s, I attended countless IFB preacher’s meetings and conferences. These meetings were an opportunity for preachers to preach, gossip, eat lots of food, and compare dick sizes. The number one question asked at these meetings was this: “how many ya running these days?” Everyone wanted to know who had the biggest dick. Boast of John Holmes-like size, and everyone wanted to know how you did it. Numerical success meant you were being “used” by God or that God was “blessing” your church. Conference speakers were always pastors whose churches were numerically growing or had large Sunday attendances. Rare was the speaker who pastored a small, failing church. In IFB circles, size mattered.

IFB pastors practiced what I call the Four W’s. In this methodological system, you find why IFB churches numerically succeeded and why they are dying on the vine today.

Win Them

After attracting disaffected Christians from other IFB churches and busing children to the church, the single best way to grow a church was to win (evangelize) sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ. IFB churches considered themselves to be soul-saving centers. Sermons, altar calls, and evangelistic programs were all geared towards saving souls. One church I pastored in southeast Ohio for eleven years had over 600 public professions of faith. Rare was the Sunday in the 1980s when multiple people weren’t at the altar asking Jesus to save them. I judged the success or failure of my sermons by how many people walked the aisle on Sundays.

Wet Them

After getting saved, new converts were told that their first step of obedience to Christ was baptism by immersion (and then reading the Bible, tithing, prayer, tithing, attending church every time the doors were open, tithing). Getting people saved was the easy part. Getting them to submit to being held under water by a Baptist preacher? Not as easy. IFB churches typically had large new convert numbers, but not as many baptisms. The reason for this was simple. Many new converts never returned to church after getting saved or came for a few weeks and then stopped attending after hearing the pastor rage against “sin” — their sin. People attracted to a particular IFB church’s “friendliness” quickly found out that friendship was conditioned on obedience and fealty to bat-shit crazy beliefs and practices.

Work Them

After getting people saved and baptized, it was time to indoctrinate them into the cult by giving them work to do. The success of any IFB church relies on the unpaid labor of its members. Not only were church members expected to attend church every time the doors were open, but they were also expected to go on visitation, work in the bus ministry, teach Sunday school, man (I mean woman) the nursery, work in Junior Church, oversee the youth ministry, etc. IFB churches are a way of life, with services and ministries taking up virtually every day of the week. On-fire, sold-out Christians worked, worked, worked, and worked for their pastor, uh, I mean God. No matter how many hours they worked at their jobs or how many hours they spent caring for family, congregants were expected to give their all to their pastor, uh, I mean God.

Take the IFB church I pastored in southeast Ohio. We had church activities going on virtually every day of the week. We also had a private Christian school. And then we had conferences and revivals. All told, church members were expected to show up and participate in services, events, and ministries over 300 days a year. Not showing up brought the wrath of the pastor, uh, I mean God, upon your head.

Waste Them

It should come as no surprise that such a frenetic church life led to burnout. IFB churches loved to count the people coming through the front door, but not those leaving out the back. As long as more people came through the front door than who left, the church was “growing,” a “success.” Those who left the church were considered failures or weak, people unwilling to give their all to the pastor, uh, I mean God. No account is given for those harmed by being worked to death. Winners work for Jesus day and night, and losers don’t. Don’t you want to be a winner?

The IFB church movement is in numeric decline because this methodology proved not to be sustainable. Scores of people left for friendlier religious groups that allowed them space to live their lives. Others abandoned God altogether. However, ask IFB preachers why their churches are in the toilet, they will blame sin, liberalism, or laziness, refusing to acknowledge that the real culprit is staring at them in the mirror.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small Evangelical college known for producing fiery Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. College students were required to attend Emmanuel. In the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today, its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door. (I recently heard that the buildings might have finally sold. The college campus was purchased and converted into community buildings and apartments.)

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone was a fervent preacher who punctuated his sermons with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the present, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard some men who had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter. Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well-crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring oratory. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus himself was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher who is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they didn’t understand they were doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same Holy Spirit-inspired lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie becomes reality and they think it’s the truth.

Take Jack Hyles — by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord/Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived. “Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted. “Who called you?” he asked.” I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.” “Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble. “I got another creeper, laid down on it, and rolled myself under the car with him. “Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted. “How can you tell from under here?” “I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.” “Who are you?” he asked. “I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.” Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Savior to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty-five years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House

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I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. We didn’t have XXX movie houses or strip clubs. In Bryan, Ohio, only two establishments sold adult magazines. I was nineteen and a student at Midwestern Baptist College before I perused my first pornographic magazine. I suspect many of the young men studying at Midwestern had similar experiences. Our rural, small-town cultures sheltered us from the perversity found in big cities, as did the hellfire and brimstone preaching of the churches we came from. Sexual naïveté ran wild at Midwestern, and the college’s answer was to regularly preach against sexual sin, hoping that doing so would keep students from sexual temptation.

Pontiac, Michigan was a dirty, dying industrial town. Its downtown area had numerous adult entertainment establishments, including a XXX movie house that played the latest pornographic movies and hosted amateur night stripper contests. It was not uncommon to see a dozen or more prostitutes plying their trade on downtown Pontiac street corners. One woman who comes to mind was a rather large woman with huge DDDDDDDD breasts. She would briskly walk the streets braless, breasts bouncing chin to belly button. It was quite a sight to behold.

As you might surmise, downtown Pontiac was a magnet for young, virile, horny Baptist boys. The personal contact rules (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) at Midwestern forbade physical contact between dating couples. No hand-holding. No kissing. No hugging. No nothing. Students were required to stay six inches away from their boyfriends/girlfriends at all times. Of course, students broke the six-inch rule with impunity, causing all sorts of guilt and fear. The good news was that Jesus was only a prayer away. That’s the Baptist way: sin, ask for forgiveness, promise never to sin again — wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great way to live.

One night, after much prayer and temptation, I decided to check out the fine art films at the XXX movie house. I parked away from the theater, thinking that if anyone who knew me drove by, they wouldn’t see my car. As I walked from my car to the movie house, I could “feel” the “Holy Spirit” telling me, Don’t do it, Bruce. God says it’s a sin. The Bible says it’s a sin. Your pastor says it’s a sin. Your dorm supervisor says it’s a sin. Your preschool Sunday School teacher says it’s a sin. All these voices in my head, but one voice stood above all others — mine. I wanted to do this. I was curious about what was behind the theater’s doors. And so I made my way to the theater’s entrance, paid my admission, and found a seat at the back of the theater.

The first act of the night was an amateur stripping contest. Local young women — some of them prostitutes — stripped and paraded back and forth on the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen a woman naked. I battled conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt guilty. I was breaking the law of God, and I was violating college rules. On the other hand, I felt excitement — sexual excitement. It was my first time seeing a woman’s body in all its glory — as naked as Eve in the Garden of Eden. What more can I say? After all of the women had performed, judges determined the first, second, and third place winners. The winners were given cash prizes.

Then it was time for the feature film. As with the amateur contest, the movie definitely exposed me to sexual things I had never seen before. Needless to say, I was fascinated by what I saw. I am sure some readers of the Evangelical persuasion are thinking, Oh my God Bruce, you were taken in by Satan’s greatest temptation — lust. I bet you couldn’t keep from doing this again, right? Sorry to disappoint you. This was my first and last trip to the XXX movie house in downtown Pontiac. I would later marry a beautiful dark-haired girl who was a wonder to behold in her own right. Why look from afar when you can see, touch, and well, you know . . .

The highlight of the evening came not on the stage, but as I was leaving the theater. As I exited and turned my head to the right I saw, much to my surprise, a graduate of Midwestern and deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church college students were required to attend). Our eyes met, and then both of us quickly turned away, pretending that we had never seen the other. This man and his wife were good friends of Polly’s parents. When their names came up in family discussions years later, I so wanted to say . . . boy do I have a story to tell!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser